A transdisciplinary team of Philadelphia University students has won the top prize in a U.S. Department of Defense challenge to redesign protective chemical-biological suits for military troops.
A second PhilaU team was a runner-up in the nationwide competition.
The Proof Challenge by the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (JPEO-CBD) sought innovative ideas from the public to increase mobility, dexterity and tactility of these suits, allowing troops to complete their tasks, such as running and climbing, in a fast and comfortable manner.
The winning PhilaU team, which will share the $55,000 top prize, included 2016 fashion merchandising and management alumni and current iMBA students Madeline Haas and Nicole Raab; fashion design seniors Jessica Roberts and Itohan Asemota; textile engineering junior Shana Kaplan; and textile materials technology junior Angela Villanueva. Their project focused on improving tactility and dexterity in the suits.
“After looking into the current design and interviewing a group of Navy SEALs about their past experiences with the suit, we outlined major aspects to improve,” Kaplan said. “Our final suit is a synthesis of original apparel design and integration of new technologies, with a focus on comfort and functionality.”
The ability to put faces to the project through the interviews proved to be invaluable and gave the group a competitive advantage, Haas said.
Roberts said the opportunity to work on an unfamiliar topic with a transdisciplinary team will enhance her career skills.
“It made me step outside my comfort zone to find a reasonable solution to the problem and made me a better designer,” she said. “I learned to design not for the expected but the unexpected.”
Les Sztandera, professor of computer information systems and faculty lead for the project, said PhilaU students are well-prepared to develop innovative solutions. “To be successful in today’s competitive economy, one needs to collaborate with others,” he said. “That’s what PhilaU students are all about.”
PhilaU’s runner-up team received $5,000 for its project, which sought to improve the suit’s integration of components. The team included 2016 fashion merchandising and management alumna and current iMBA student Chelsey Pyne; fashion design senior Keren Espina; and textile materials technology junior Devon Willard.
They focused on the arm-to-glove, leg-to-boot and hood-to-mask mechanisms and implemented other technologies, such as BioSkin, to allow users to be at a comfortable temperature while still protected from the environment.
Willard said the experience strengthened her interest in performance textiles for military use. “This project taught me the importance of teamwork and the value in creating an ergonomic product,” she said. “I expect to use these skills when researching and developing performance textiles to provide an optimum level of comfort for their intended end uses.”
Other PhilaU faculty members participating in the project were Jonathan Spindel, director of engineering programs; Brian George, associate professor of engineering; Janet Brady, associate professor of materials technology; Marcia Weiss, director of textile design and Harold Neuman Textile Design Chair; Sheila Connelly, fashion design program director; Monica Lam, academic dean of the School of Business Administration; Pielah Kim, assistant professor of fashion merchandising and management; Joseph Fritz, adjunct professor of business law and management; Justin O’Pella, assistant dean of academic administration, Kanbar College of Design, Engineering and Commerce; and John Venafro, fashion events coordinator. Michael Asada, a PhilaU doctoral student in strategic leadership, also advised students for the project.
Mark Sunderland, director of the M.S. in global fashion enterprise and B.S. in textile material technology programs and Robert J. Reichlin High-Performance Apparel Chair, served as a competition judge.
The winners–showcased on the Proof Challenge Facebook page–will work with JPEO-CBD on the next steps of bringing their innovative concepts to reality.
“The thinking, attention to detail and fresh ideas were astounding, exceeding what we expected,” said LeRoy Garey, Proof Challenge product manager. “This type of public collaboration is something we look forward to tapping into in the future–joining forces with the Americans we serve to help protect this country and our warfighters.”